All posts by Philip Boyce

WRiTiNG RiNG RAiDERS: JAMES TOMLiNSON iNTERViEW

With its huge ensemble cast, near limitless storytelling possibilities and its ability to turn small plastic airplanes on rings into thrilling war machines piloted by dynamic, three-dimensional characters Ring Raiders was (and still is) my favourite non-OiNK childhood comic. Editor Barrie Tomlinson had assembled the very best talent to bring my latest obsession to life in 1989 and this included his son James, who went by the pen name James Nicholas at the time.

James was an acclaimed writer for Eagle, Battle and Scream! and would be the person responsible for my one of my favourite stories in Ring Raiders. According to Barrie, James has always been an “aviation nut”, so surely this would seem like the perfect comic for James to write for?

“With the aviation connection, Ring Raiders really did stand out for me amongst so many ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ titles,” James told me. “This does bring back some great memories of marvellous times long ago. So good to hear that Ring Raiders was, and still is, appreciated so much by those that read, and continue to read, the title. It makes us writers (and artists I am sure) so nostalgic and proud. It was indeed so sad (I’d use the word tragedy, but that may be a bit too far!) Ring Raiders lasted only a handful of issues, it deserved a longer print run for sure. Many others clearly think the same!”

James very graciously (not to mention rather excitedly) agreed to answer some questions about this brilliant comic which unfortunately launched at a time when comic sales across the board were in decline, when it seemed no matter which one I started to collect it didn’t last long. The fact it remains a favourite all these years later is testament to its quality. So with an ace publication based on a childhood obsession and a fan of all things aviation at the helm of some of its top stories, I was really looking forward to this interview. James was not to disappoint.

OiNK Blog: It was great to hear you’re still an aviation nut and have fond memories of your time working on Ring Raiders. Were there any particular aspects of the idea behind it that stood out for you?

James Tomlinson: Yes indeed, I’m still very much an aviation nut after all these years! Rather than just one story, I think it was the whole concept that really stood out for me. Pilots and aircraft from different eras locked in mortal combat in contrasting time zones all over the globe. It really had the makings of a long-running and thrilling sky-based adventure which seemed to be just what the kids back then would have loved. Well, that’s what I think anyway!

OB: What was the process like when a new licence came through, to get up to speed on everything you’d need to know about something like Ring Raiders? I imagine it wouldn’t have been a very long timeframe before you’d start producing stories?

JT: With these sorts of stories, based on toy products, there’s really no definite answer to this one. It varied so much. Sometimes we were given a lot of information about the characters and storylines, other times there was much less for us to go on. Of course, in the latter scenario, this could be a good thing as it allowed writers to use their own imagination more and pad out things with their own ideas. Again, the amount of time we got to read up and prepare for something new like Ring Raiders varied hugely. Often there had to be a very quick turnaround with the stories, on other occasions we had months to get things just right.

OB: You very kindly sent me a folder from the licence holders you used (look out for this at a later date – Phil) and it was very scant on details for each character, basically consisting of the information on the toy packaging and focusing more on the decals of the planes. Did you get anything more to go on, or was it up to you as a writer to embellish them as you saw fit?

JT: From what I recall there was indeed not a great deal to go on with the characters from Ring Raiders, so it was a case of each individual writer embellishing the characters. Obviously, if the licence holders didn’t like what the writer had done with the characters they could object and ask for changes, which did happen on a fairly regular basis (although not so much, thankfully, with Ring Raiders).

OB: It was like an anthology comic in many ways. Who came up with the story ideas and chose the characters you’d focus on? Your first story was set during World War II at a time linked to the origin story of the ‘Raider featured, Cub Jones. It’s also chock full of B-17 Fortress Bombers fighting modern day jets and classic prop planes. How very you.

JT: I think most of the basic story ideas came from the writers themselves, apart from those that, say, focussed on the early life stories of the individual heroes and villains. Those were probably more down to editorial decisions. Bomber Blues was very much my sort of story, with all my kind of ingredients. I’d always been a fan of stories about the Flying Fortress of WW2. This big plane with a big crew and a ton of guns really caught my imagination. Searching my dusty old memory banks, I seem to recall there was a serial story in Battle about an American Flying Fortress squadron flying out of wartime England which I always enjoyed. To have a Flying Fortress going up against jet fighters from the future was just perfect in my eyes. I’m sure I had a lot of input into this story choice! 

OB: Both of your published stories were beautifully illustrated by Don Wazejewski, how did that come about? Did you write your stories and they were assigned to Don or did you work together more closely to produce the final product?

JT: It was just luck that a great artist like Don Wazejewski was chosen to illustrate Bomber Blues. Certainly, in my time writing I never worked closely with the artist who would eventually illustrate my work. We always worked very much apart. Many lucky artists lived abroad in the sun anyway and it wasn’t so easy to keep in touch as it is today; no internet, emails or social media back then! I always thought the many different artists who converted my (sometimes difficult!) ideas to a finished visual work did a superb job. I wish I could have produced work half as good as they did. Unfortunately I’ve never had any drawing talent at all (always a bit of a drawback if you want to become an artist). Artists like Joe Colquhoun, John Cooper and Sandy James were at the top of their game. (The latter two also produced some stunning work for Ring Raiders – Phil) I take my hat off to their much missed talents!

OB: Your second story ‘Castle of Doom’ involved more time travel into the past and a plot by Skull Squadron to undermine the formation of their arch enemies. It seemed to be setting up a larger scale story in the background. Was this the idea, something you could return to at a later date? Or am I reading too much into it?

JT: Once again, Castle of Doom was just my cup of tea when it comes to a story. Travelling back in time to change what will happen in the future has always intrigued and interested me. Maybe because I watched a lot of Doctor Who and The Time Tunnel when I was a youngster! I really don’t recall if there was any plan to make this story part of a long-running adventure (like my story Operation Deep Cover which I wrote for Battle Action Force) but it’s an interesting idea. Perhaps you should have been on the editorial team and suggested it, Phil!

OB: Oh if only! Once the ‘Raiders perfect time travel I’ll see you back then!

OB: In that story the main characters are the Ring Raiders’ Yakamura (X-29 fighter) and Skull Squadron’s Wraither (P-51 Mustang). These two characters’ craft were in a two-plane ‘Starter Pack’ which was how I started collecting the toys. Was this deliberate?

JT: I’m almost certain that the Yakamura X-29/Wraither P-51 Mustang were deliberately chosen to go up against each other in this story given they could be bought together in a Starter Pack. The idea was probably to encourage youngsters (such as yourself!) to go and buy the X-29/P-51 combo (then available in all good toy shops) and re-enact the dogfights from Castle of Doom. Whether this decision was down to Those Characters From Cleveland/Matchbox/someone in editorial or even the humble writer is lost long ago somewhere in the clouds!

OB: My inner fan just grinned from ear-to-ear! For UK fans your comic was responsible for developing the characters beyond the toys. Did the licence holders ever request alterations that affected your work? Barrie has told me they were more understanding than most.

JT: I’m glad the then young UK fans appreciated our efforts to flesh out the characters from what was perhaps a not-so-detailed starting point. Licence holders could often be very fussy about things and ask/demand/insist that changes were made. Usually this was at the script stage although, when deadlines were tight sometimes the artwork had already been completed. I’m thinking of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures here rather than Ring Raiders. Last minute changes to the actual artwork were usually impossible, given that many artists lived on distant shores and there was just no scope to alter things late in the day. We’d usually say we’d take on board their comments and make sure we did things properly next time!

OB: You were responsible for the Photo File series, which we only got two parts of in #6 and the Special, unfortunately. The comic seemed to get a new found confidence with that sixth issue so I was gutted it was the last one. Can you remember any plans you or the team had for stories or the comic as a whole beyond these early issues?

JT: Yes, I was behind the Photo File series, I’d produced similar types of aircraft fact files for other titles in the past. Again, this was right up my street as I obviously had more than a little(!) interest in the subject matter. I was disappointed only a couple of these were completed, the P-51 Mustang and the F-104 Starfighter, the latter for the Special. The Starfighter was another of my all-time faves, a really special plane which had the nickname ‘The Rocket With A Man In It’! I do agree that Ring Raiders was getting better all the time and the sudden end of the title was a real shock to us all. What the long-term future held for the title is difficult to say with any certainty. I would have hoped it would have gone from strength to strength as we got more used to the characters and expected storylines. There was just so much scope with all that dogfighting action through the centuries!

OB: Finally, Barrie gave me some details of unpublished stories which were being worked on when the comic was cancelled. There was apparently a Christmas story and another called ‘Blow Bubbles’, both written by yourself. Can you remember anything about them?

JT: There were at least three of my stories for planned future issues which were sadly unpublished. Apart from Blow Bubbles and the untitled Christmas story, there was also a story called Hijacked. Unfortunately, I don’t recall anything about any of them! I’m not even sure what stage the stories had reached, whether I’d finished or even started writing one, two or all three. I’m afraid the three tales have disappeared into ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ of unpublished writing!

Thanks so much to James for this brilliant interview and his detailed, enthusiastic answers. It’s been great to bring this comic back to life through the blog and to give it the appreciation it so clearly deserves. If it had continued I’ve every faith it would’ve evolved into an epic title to rival any licenced fare in the UK, including even Marvel‘s Transformers. Sadly, it was not to be.

But we’re here to celebrate this comic, not mourn it and I’ll leave the last word for James:

“It’s been a pleasure spending time revisiting the history of Ring Raiders. Those were great days!”

Just last week I published an interview with Ring Raiders‘ editor Barrie Tomlinson, and before the month is out the long-awaited review of the Ring Raiders Special, so stay tuned!

OiNK! #37: NEW ADDiTiONS

Our second new look OiNK sees the logo enlarged a little, sitting proud in its new position and, as promised by co-creator/co-editor Patrick Gallagher in the previous review, it lets us see more of the superb cover image by Mike Higgs. There’s a confidence about this issue and it’s new format that takes me right back to those days of running to the newsagent for my latest issue every fortnight, knowing I was going to get another 32 pages of perfect pork!

Another set of free stickers are wrapped around the cover, that Tom Thug ‘Book of Grammar’ one being my particular favourite. I think I used the Hadrian Vile sticker on a school book of some description back in 1987 (I would’ve been in primary six at the time of this issue) and the missing one on the back was the same as the one I showed you was on my fridge. This issue’s has been added to the comics shelves in my new home office.

The ‘Hilarious Happy Families Issue’ lives up to its name from the very first page with that brilliant cover complete with a couple of strategically placed OiNKs, portraying an elderly relative dying from the shock of reading an issue. The Christmas Club, the note on the bottom of the casket and a couple of plops for good measure, I can remember visiting my mum’s friend’s house with this issue and sitting absorbed by it while they gossiped.

In fact, I remember they were talking about Santa Claus and wondering if I knew the truth (that he most definitely existed, obviously) and I caught part of the conversation between strips. I can recall May asking the question and my mum saying at my age my friends would’ve been talking about it, so she assumed I knew. I kept quiet, I still wanted all my toys (and my OiNK Book!). That’s something which always comes back to me whenever I see this cover. May (or Aunty May as we called her, even though she wasn’t related) is no longer with us so it’s a happy memory that I’ll never forget thanks to OiNK.

This is quite simply the perfect comic script

Inside, one of the first strips is an old favourite, Davy FrancisCowpat County. Davy has two trademarks when it comes to his funniest strips, background gags and brilliant puns. This next page is easily my favourite featuring Farmer Giles. It is quite simply the perfect comic script. It all leads up to the final joke, expertly laying in the little bits of information along the way that’ll make it work, the reader unaware this is happening until the end.

Davy is a real comedic genius and it ran in the family. His father Stanley Francis was a comedian, performing in the old club circuits in Northern Ireland with Frank “it’s a cracker” Carson. Stanley also played piano and once accompanied Little Richard at Belfast’s Boom Boom Rooms! He’d often tell jokes at home to try them out (which Davy now uses on his bus tours) and the joke at the centre of this Cowpat County was one of Stanley’s.


“She’s luvly!!”

Hadrian Vile

Just one final note about this strip. I have the original artwork, one of a few pieces of Davy’s I own. I’m going to hold that back for a future post and show them all off at once. It also couldn’t have escaped your notice that something is going on with Snatcher Sam and Frank Sidebottom. Anyone who grew up on OiNK should instantly know what this refers to. Yes, it was finally available. Exciting! I’ll get back to that later in the review.

Next up is what I’d easily describe as the main event of this family themed issue. In fact it’s probably the main event in the whole life of Hadrian Vile thus far, something I’ve alluded to ever since the character first appeared on the blog back in #4’s review. To mark the occasion he gets three pages written by Mark Rodgers in glorious Ian Jackson full colour. This story more than any other plays to Ian’s strength of perfectly capturing a character’s thoughts in their face and body language. For example, his exasperated dad when they’re pulled over and in the next panel when he’s trying to explain things to the police officer.

We saw Hadrian’s age increase in the birthday issue and his reaction when his parents explained he was going to be a big brother. Now, after months of him torturing his poor pregnant mum the big moment has arrived and while the laughs are still plentiful, what we have here is a surprisingly sweet strip. After all those previous issues full of Hadrian getting into trouble thanks to his ridiculous schemes, he actually comes up with a helpful idea when the situation calls for it. It’s still daft and funny of course, especially his dad trying to run along holding that pillow. 

After wearing down the carpet in the waiting room the family are called in to see their latest addition, even Bowser gets a mask so he can join them. We turn over to see the following full-page image with a simple, sweet (yet still incorrectly spelt) diary entry. This was certainly a memorable moment in humour comics. When did a character live their life in an almost real time manner like this? When was something like this properly built up to instead of just being a sudden change? OiNK was always unique and this is all the proof you need.

Don’t be thinking Hadrian is going to go all slushy on us though. Instead, he sees his new baby sister as a potential protégé, someone to teach the ways of the world to, someone to train and we get to see him ingratiate himself over the following months from what I can remember. She also makes an appearance in the card game in this very issue.

This takes up the middle pages and the back cover, with another half page for the instructions, which are the same for the regular Happy Families game.

So as per the typical rules each family is made up of four individuals, with Hadrian’s not including Bowser as would’ve been expected up to this point, instead the newest addition gets a little cameo of sorts. Altogether there are 36 cards for the reader to stick on to cardboard and cut out, split into nine families. Parents and siblings could also easily take part because each group has a simple numbering system so non-OiNK fans (yes, they exist!) wouldn’t get lost amongst the silly names.

I always liked seeing favourite characters drawn by different artists. Ed McHenry is the artist here and his depictions of Ian Jackson’s Hadrian and his family, David Haldane’s Rubbish Man, J.T. Dogg’s Street-Hogs heroes and villains, and Jeremy Banx’s alien innards are my particular favourites. Did any blog readers cut out and play this game when they were but a piglet? I never cut up any of my OiNKs back at the time. (I did begin to colour in something in the first annual but that was about it.) However, these days the angel on top of my Christmas tree is from a page of the comic, and for the blog I’ve already constructed an old-fashioned Frank Sidebottom toy.

There’s a certain phrase I remember my dad using whenever my siblings or I did anything that our mum would’ve found particularly bad and one of the little quarter-page strips in this issue takes that exact phrase and ridicules it, albeit swapping the parents’ roles over in the process. From that moment on I could never take it seriously when it was used. I still can’t. Mad Dad is written by Vaughan Brunt and drawn by Ian Knox. This is followed up by Grate Expectations, a memorable little one-off from the insane mind of Simon Thorp who, I’m very happy to say, was turning up more regularly by this point.

There were so many potential highlights in this issue I really struggled in deciding which ones to include. This could be a regular problem these next few months, but it’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it? The Grunts page features press clippings about OiNK itself, although I’ll save them for their own post at a future date. Just mentioned recently on the blog’s Twitter feed by a fellow pig pal was Burp’s tractor beam and it pops up here, so I just had to include that in this little selection of panels.

There was also a unique competition in which readers could win a trip to Timperley, the home of megastar Frank Sidebottom and meet their hero, and to get readers excited to enter he tells us all about his post office having two letterboxes! I’ll keep an eye out for the results and winners. There’s a full-page Uncle Pigg strip describing the special versions of OiNK he publishes around the world and it’s nice to see he and Santa have made up since #17

For the first time we see Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins playing football, something which would lead to a huge multi-issue story for the character in future issues, a little plop drawn by Patrick Gallagher invaded a handful of pages throughout the issue such as Rubbish Man’s, and in the latest Butcher Watch a pig by the name of Stig the Pig thinks he’s finally won the battle with Jimmy ‘The Cleaver’ Smith, with wonderfully Banx’y captions.

Of course, Jimmy has to live to see another day and terrorise the world in which the characters of OiNK reside. As it turns out that shadowy figure wasn’t Jimmy at all but rather a selection of pork sausages tied up and dressed to resemble him. We see this reveal just before Jimmy strangles Stig to death with another string of sausages. This might sound a bit brutal for a kid’s humour comic but it’s so ludicrous and over-the-top it was a hoot to read every time and we’d just laugh at the absurdity of the pretend horror.

So, Frank has just set a new competition and this issue announces the runner-up of a previous one, but not one we’d seen in the comic. Instead, in much the same way as OiNK had run a competition in conjunction with Radio Manchester (the results were in #26), they teamed up with Granada TV’s Scramble programme. Ian Marshall from Bramhall has not one, but two small strips in this issue starring his own creation, Professor Foible.

If this is the level of quality the runner-up produced I can honestly say I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what the young winner came up with! We’ll have to wait to find out though because they’re holding that back until #38.

So for the uninitiated, what were Frank Sidebottom aka Chris Sievey and Snatcher Sam aka Marc Riley up to earlier in the issue? Why, they were recording a new song for the OiNK 45 of course! Way back in the mists of time the premiere issue of our favourite comic gave away a fun flexidisc record with two songs created specifically to annoy adults as much as for the kids to enjoy. The OiNK Song and The OiNK Rap are often quoted by fans to this day and on this new proper record they were getting another outing alongside a new song.

When the original songs were produced by Marc, Chris was yet to join the comic (#16) so the new track, called The OiNK Get Together Song was a chance for the pop music sensation to get in on the action and team up with the former member of The Fall. Along with the other two songs (the rap now renamed The OiNK Psycho Rap) this was a proper, solid record the size of a single, in its own sleeze for just £1.70 and I for one jumped at the chance to own it, especially since all three songs were new to me (having missed the flexidisc first time around). In fact, this and the mug were the only pieces of OiNK merchandise I originally owned.

I recall the song contained impressions of various characters and it irritated my family just as much as the other two. My record met with an early demise when it warped under the hot sun from a skylight window only a couple of weeks after it had arrived in the post. I hadn’t even had a chance to tape it yet so I could listen to it on my Walkman. Now if only I could listen to it again after all these decades to see how my adult brain would react to these songs.

Well would you look at that. Yep, in a moment of perfect timing just a couple of months ago this appeared on eBay and the record is in mint condition. I could not be happier. But then again, I haven’t listened to it yet! Nope, I haven’t stuck it on the ol’ record player yet, I’ll do that when it comes to writing the accompanying blog post. So look out for that just after 17th October. Why am I making you wait so long? Well, we had to wait 28 days for delivery after all and this is all in real time.

That brings us to the end of another fantastic issue. As a child I’d loved the changes and was so happy they weren’t a one-off (the previous issue‘s theme explaining them away for that edition), the book was in the shops and I was eagerly anticipating it for Christmas and I’d just ordered an exciting new piece of merchandise, my first piece of OiNK merchandise in fact. I’d been a fan of OiNK since I’d first discovered it, but by now I was completely obsessed. The next issue is the Food and Drink Special with yet another memorable cover, a full-page photograph of (who else) Frank and Sam. The next review will be here on Monday 3rd October 2022.

October already?!

COMiNG UP: OiNK! #37

As OiNK continues through my favourite issues each one brings with it more happy memories of reading these all those years ago (35 years ago to be precise). The next issue brings back specific memories for me, not least of which was how much I enjoyed it. Will it live up to those memories all this time later? Given how much I’ve been enjoying the main real time read through of the blog I think the odds are pretty much stacked in its favour.

In #37, the Happy Families Issue, you’ll see a surprisingly touching moment for the young trouble maker Hadrian Vile when his diary chronicles a major life moment, Cowpat County delivers one of the greatest gags in all of OiNK history, there’s a cut out (or rather, save image and print and cut out) card game and a major announcement of some new OiNK merchandise! The next review will be here on Monday 19th September 2022.